A Regency New Year’s Primer
As I was gathering information on Christmas in the Regency, I also came across some traditions that were associated with celebrations at New Year’s as well. Some of these actually continue until today, although some have gone by the wayside.
One tradition seems to have been the Midnight Circle. The family or the company if it was a large gathering, would form a circle around the hearth just before midnight. When the clock began to strike, the head of the household would go to the front door and open it, holding it open until the last stroke of midnight had died away. He then returned to the circle. This let out all the old things and ushered in the new. Those even more superstitious would get rid of ashes, rags, scraps, anything perishable on December 31 so that nothing was left over from the old year to the new. Everything started fresh with the New Year. At my house growing up, the Christmas tree was always taken down on New Year’s Day, the last bit of the old year to leave on the first day of the New Year.
According to Maria Grace, in her article “Regency Christmas Traditions: Ringing in the New Year,” in some of the country towns, young maids would race to the village well to draw the first pail of water of the New Year in a practice called “creaming the well.” The maiden who drew this pail would supposedly marry within the year. The water was also believed to have curative properties and might even be rubbed onto the udders of cows to assure their productivity in the coming year.
Another tradition that came out of Scotland was called “first footing.” This superstition held that good luck for the household would be determined by the first person who came across the threshold. If a tall, dark, handsome stranger came into the house first, then good luck was assured for the year. However, if a woman came into the house first, bad luck would haunt the family for the whole year.
The shape of the person’s foot was also taken into account. A man with a high-instep, according the Maria Grace, was preferred because, “water would run under,” meaning bad luck would flow past. The first-footer would come in the front door, greet the household, perhaps bring a small gift of food, and then exit through the back door, taking with him all the old year’s troubles.
First-footing was a sacred tradition in my household growing up. My mother’s family was of Scottish descent, so I’m sure that’s how it got passed down. Every New Year’s Day my uncle (my dad’s brother who lived next door) would appear early in the day. He’d come in, sit down for a few minutes, say “Happy New Year” then leave through the back door. My mother would never let a woman into the house until he’d been there, so he came over very early every year.
And a final tradition that began well before the Regency, but was practiced then and today, was the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” This song, now sung at the stroke of midnight, is a Scottish folk song, written down by Robert Burns in 1788 to the tune of a Scottish folk melody. The title translates to “old long since” but is colloquial for “days gone by.” The lyrics generally mean forget the past and look forward to the new.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these Regency traditions and I wish everyone a Happy and prosperous New Year.
A KISS BENEATH
Is one kiss ever enough?
Jenny Crowley has been duped! At her eighteenth birthday celebration her parents announce that instead of having the London Season she’s dreamed of for years, Jenny has been betrothed from birth to Alexander Isley, son of family friends and heir to a title. A distraught Jenny refuses point-blank to marry Alec, and when her aunt offers to whisk her away to a Christmas house party, complete with many eligible young bachelors, Jenny jumps at the chance to enjoy a variety of entertainments, be courted, and perhaps fall in love.
Alec Isley is between a rock and a hard place. He desires a marriage with Jenny no more than she does, but when his family’s dire financial status is revealed, he follows Jenny to the house party in hopes of convincing her to marry him after all. When he discovers who else is courting her there, Alec is frantic to keep her from making a dreadful mistake. Struggling with new-found feelings for his childhood friend, can Alec convince her of his love in time to save her from being ruined under the mistletoe?
Dishes of trifle finally sat at each place. Jenny itched to pick up her spoon. She could taste the berries and cream even now. She glanced at her father, who at last smiled and nodded.
“So, Charles, when is the wedding to take place?” Great-Aunt Henrietta trumpeted the question from her place at the mid-point of the table, her spoon already busy with her dessert.
“Wedding, Aunt Henrietta?” Papa’s voice rose in a question, but he cut his eyes toward Mamma, who sent a frightened look at Jenny.
Odd, but no more so than her great-aunt’s question. Whose wedding was she talking about?
“Yes, Charles. Jenny’s wedding to young Alexander here.” Henrietta nodded across the table to Alexander Isley, who sat up abruptly, staring at her aunt with wide eyes, as though he thought the old lady quite mad.
Jenny thought so herself. A prickly sensation began at the back of her neck. She shot Alec a quick look. No, his face wore an expression of outright confusion, his brows knit over his dark brown eyes.
“She’s eighteen now, and you promised me when she was of age I’d see her married into the Isley family. I have lived for the day that I could announce to the world that one of my family had moved into the titled class.” She glared at Mama, who blushed and turned to Jenny.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds, Jenny darling,” Mama said, patting her hand.
That might have reassured Jenny, except her mother’s wide, staring eyes said yes, it was that bad. Maybe worse. Her heart began to pound and the sweet trifle turned sour in her mouth.
“Not bad?” Great-Aunt Henrietta swung her gaze to Jenny and fixed her with a cold blue-eyed stare. “You should be grateful, girl. Your parents and I have arranged for you to take your place in society, as a titled lady in due time.”
“It’s not true is it, Mama?” Jenny could barely choke out the words in a voice that didn’t sound like her own at all. Too high, too soft. A peculiar roaring in her ears made her head light.
“Yes, my dear, it most certainly is.” Great-Aunt Henrietta nodded with such vehemence that the feathers on her green velvet turban bobbed back and forth. “When your mother refused to marry up, I swore none of your family would ever see a penny of my money. Then when you were born, she came to me, begged me to reconsider, and promised that you had already been betrothed to the Isley heir here.” She pointed a finger at Alec who looked like he might dive under the table. “She showed me the betrothal papers.”
Everyone at table sat in stunned silence. Jenny looked down at her hands, clasped together so tightly her knuckles showed white. All her dreams of excitement and romance during her season had just exploded in the blink of an eye. Then the real import of her great-aunt’s word sank in and her stomach twisted. They expected her to marry Alec?
In modern times, we cannot fathom the dangers to a young lady’s reputation in the early 19th century. If she is caught in a compromising situation with a young man, they must marry at once.
Sounds quant until the fellow in question is a beast in disguise and the compromise is a forced assault for the sole purpose of forcing the young woman into a hellish marriage. All done for a bet.
While it may at first sound far-fetched, the history that Jenna Jaxon reveals along the way makes it most believable. It was a man’s world back then and one wife with money was as good as another. Pleasure could always be found elsewhere. And frankly, women had very few rights.
Jenny’s parents announce her arranged marriage to a young man who has been her friend and playmate most of her life. Unfortunately, Jenny wants nothing to do with Alec. She thinks of him as a brother. So her aunt invites her to hunt for suiters at her estate. Alec shows up, but gives Jenny all the room she requires until she favors the worst cad in the assortment of cads that have arrived for the dances.
Somersby is a formidable young man. His father, a marquis. From their introduction, Jenny is attracted by his polished charm. Will she be able to see the fellow’s true nature before it is too late?
Will Alec come to her rescue?
Will he even be able to do so?
A wager has been laid, but who will pay the price?
This book is well worth the read to find out.
A well-written, nail-biting love story. 5 stars
A Kiss Beneath the Mistletoe is available at
Jenna Jaxon is a multi-published author of historical and contemporary romance. She has been reading and writing historical romance since she was a teenager. A romantic herself, she has always loved a dark side to the genre, a twist, suspense, a surprise. She tries to incorporate all of these elements into her own stories. She lives in Virginia with her family and a small menagerie of pets. When not reading or writing, she indulges her passion for the theatre, working with local theatres as a director. She often feels she is directing her characters on their own private stage.
Jenna is a PAN member of Romance Writers of America as well as President of Chesapeake Romance Writers, her local chapter of RWA.
She has equated her writing to an addiction to chocolate because once she starts she just can’t stop.
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